Ehsan Mani seems to be the right choice

Ehsan Mani has served on a number of ICC committees and is very well versed with the functioning of the organisation.-Pic. JOHN GICHIGI/GETTY IMAGES

New President Ehsan Mani could prove to be just what the doctor had ordered for a crisis-ridden International Cricket Council.

New President Ehsan Mani could prove to be just what the doctor had ordered for a crisis-ridden International Cricket Council.

For, whether it be the financial crisis arising out of compensation claims of the Global Cricket Corporation, the shrinking base of the game or the extremely tricky issue of Indo-Pak cricket ties, Mani seems to be the best equipped to handle the pressing problems of the game's world governing body.

The 58-year-old London-based Pakistani — a chartered accountant by profession — brings with him vast expertise in financial management, an understated but efficient work ethic and wide-ranging experience in matters relating to the game — all of which he would be required to summon in great strength as he begins his two-year term from.

Pakistan's permanent representative at the ICC since 1989, Mani's rise in the organisation has overlapped with the transformation of cricket from a laid-back gentleman's game into a highly professional glitzy sport complete with the influx of big money, massive television and marketing deals and huge expansion plans.

In fact, Mani has had a key role to play in much of that. His shrewd business acumen and deft organising skills were first noticed in the public when, as a member of organising committee, he ensured the tremendous success of the 1996 World Cup — held jointly by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — the profits from which were estimated to be around 50 million dollars.

Mani, whose experience as a cricketer is limited to some club level games in Pakistan, has only grown in stature after that. From 1996 to 1999, he was the director of ICC's Finance and Marketing Committee — a tenure during which he negotiated the 550-million-dollar contract with GCC for exclusive rights of ICC events till 2007 including two World Cups.

Ironically, the money that completely changed the face of the game has now become the source of ICC's biggest headache.

One of the first tasks ahead of Mani would be to settle the compensation claims of GCC which is seeking nearly 50 million dollars in damages for losses it suffered because of the failure of several Cricket Boards to fulfill their obligations during the World Cup in South Africa earlier this year.

Mani has enough experience to deal with such issues though. After shifting to London from Rawalpindi — where his father owned the London Book Company — he pursued a career in chartered accountancy and slowly made a reputation for himself in the job. He is on the boards of several companies with varied business interests.

He has served on a number of ICC committees as well, and is very well versed with the functioning of the organisation. His paper on the sharing of World Cup revenues between the host and member countries had a major impact on the financial arrangements of the ICC and its members.

His Asian origin and European lifestyle has meant that he has made himself endearing to every lobby in the ICC regardless of a growing divide within the organisation along racial lines.

Add to that a suave and charming personality, the ability to get along well with everyone and the willingness to look for a compromise, and it seems clear why Mani's ascendancy bodes well for the ICC.

However, one issue in which he has expressed his helplessness is the resumption of Indo-Pak cricket ties.

"We can only facilitate dialogue and persuade governments that it is not healthy for sports and politics to mix but we are not in a position to dictate," he has said.

But Mani is known to enjoy a close relationship with Indian Cricket Board supremo Jagmohan Dalmiya. It was during Dalmiya's tenure as the ICC President that he rose to prominence as the man entrusted with the job of generating funds for the world body through clever marketing.

His rise to the top, coupled with the recent thaw in political relations between the two countries, has raised the hope that India and Pakistan will soon resume bilateral cricket matches.

Mani is also a staunch supporter of globalisation of the game.

"Development and globalisation of cricket remains a top priority for ICC. You cannot truly have an international game based on 10 teams, you have to be expansionist and open up new markets," he has said.

It will be a really big challenge for him to take the game to newer regions at a time when its base has shrunk even in the traditional cricket-playing countries like England, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The ICC has already decided to stage two matches of the 2007 World Cup — to be hosted by West Indies — in the United States.